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Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets? What You Need to Know

Kristin Hitchcock

Hedgehogs are adorable and cute. If you’re looking for an exotic pet, a hedgehog can quickly draw your eyes. However, while they are small, hedgehogs are not necessarily easy pets. They aren’t suitable for all pet owners, as they require some special consideration.

In this article, we’ll take a look at a few things you need to know before considering a hedgehog as a pet.

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1. They are Domesticated

Most pet hedgehogs are African pygmy hedgehogs. However, they have been bred in captivity and are therefore considered domesticated. While wild hedgehogs still live in Africa, those sold in the United States have never been in the wild.

Unlike other exotic pets, hedgehogs are pretty tame for this reason.


2. They are Prickly

Anyone can look at a picture of a hedgehog and know that it is prickly. However, hedgehogs are likely pricklier than you may think if you’ve never touched one. Their whole back is covered with sharp spines, similarly to a porcupine. These spines are used for defensive purposes. They keep predators at bay. Hedgehogs can not shoot off their spines like a porcupine, but they are still very pokey if you touch them.

Hedgehogs will curl up and tense when they feel threatened. They also tend to twitch and jump, which makes their quills poke whatever is holding them—even if that someone is you. You will need gloves or a towel to handle a nervous hedgehog. You should always have one when handling a hedgehog, just in case.

hedgehog
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

3. They Cover Themselves with Spit

Hedgehogs have a natural tendency to coat themselves in spit. No one knows precisely why they do this. Usually, this occurs when a hedgehog discovers a new scent. When this happens, the hedgehog will lick and bite the smelly object. Eventually, the animal will form a frothy “spit bubble” around the scent. Then, the hedgehog will produce more frothy bubbles. The hedgehog will use this frothy spit to cover their spines with saliva.

This strange behavior is entirely natural, but it can make the hedgehog a bit untouchable for a bit. This behavior may help the hedgehog hide from predators, which can be useful for survival in the wild. It covers their scent with the scent of the surroundings. However, this is only a theory. No one knows precisely why they carry out this behavior, though.


4. You Can’t Uncurl a Hedgehog

Hedgehogs have mighty back muscles. When they feel threatened, they will curl up into a very tight ball. Their quills will stick out of their back, making them extremely difficult to hold. Their limbs and face will be covered entirely. Their muscles are so strong that it is practically impossible to uncurl them by hand without hurting them. For this reason, you have to wait for them to come out, usually while holding them in a towel.

You don’t want to be touching them with your hands when they are curled up like this. However, you still have to handle them gently, as they can be easily injured. Your only option is to wait for them to become uncomfortable and uncurl, which requires gentle and regular handling. Otherwise, you may spend a lot of time staring at a spiky ball.

hedgehog-pixabay
Image Credit: kerttu, Pixabay

5. They’re Nocturnal

Hedgehogs will likely not be awake when you are. Usually, they are awake at night, which protects them from predators and allows them to forage food. Even domesticated pets will keep this same schedule. They will sleep for most of the day and spend most of the night running around in their enclosure. For this reason, the only time you’ll be able to interact with them is at night before you go to bed.

If you don’t stay up late or work a shift that requires you to be gone most of the night, a hedgehog may not be the best pet for you.


6. They are Prone to Obesity

Hedgehogs like to eat. They tend to eat when they are bored, which can cause them to put on weight in captivity. If they are left in their cage for much of the time, obesity may become an issue, leading to all sorts of different health problems.

What the hedgehog eats also matters quite a bit. Those who eat many insects may develop deficiencies in things like calcium, which can cause them to develop brittle bones and similar issues. If they’re overweight and have brittle bones, they may develop even more problems.

You shouldn’t merely allow your hedgehog to graze as they see fit, as they aren’t very good at restricting their intake. Instead, you’ll need to ensure that your hedgehog receives the perfect diet carefully.

hedgehog eating
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

7. Hedgehogs are Very Vocal

Hedgehogs can make quite a few noises. They are not quiet by any means. They can communicate through grunting and snorting noises. They also make clicking noises when they are upset and may even hiss similarly to a cat. They can even make a purring noise when they’re happy. They have a much longer range of sounds than many other animals.

For this reason, it can be easy to figure out precisely what your hedgehog is trying to communicate. Once you figure out what each sound means, it is surprisingly easy to interpret their communication.


8. Hedgehogs Bond with Their Owners

Hedgehogs can bond quite strongly with their owners. If you spend time interacting with your hedgehog and handling them, they can be quite lovable. Nervous hedgehogs may uncurl when they smell their owner’s scent nearby, which shows just how strongly some of them bond with their owners.

Most hedgehogs do start fearful of their owners and humans in general. It requires a bit of socialization and handling to get hedgehogs to relax. If you put in the time, these can be reasonably loveable pets.

hedgehog-pixabay
Image Credit: Krzysiek, Pixabay

9. They May Carry Some Disease Risks

Hedgehogs can carry some disease risks that may put their owners at risk for certain illnesses. This is similar to all pets, though, and isn’t necessarily something unique with hedgehogs. For instance, they can carry funguses on their spines, which may infect their owners if they are poked.

They may also carry salmonella bacteria in their stool, which the owner may be exposed to when cleaning up after the pet. For this reason, you should always wash your hands after cleaning up after a hedgehog. Luckily, a healthy hedgehog rarely passes on illnesses to its owners.


10. They Should Not Hibernate

Hedgehogs are affected by even subtle changes in temperature, which may affect their behavior and personality. European hedgehogs will hibernate through the winter when there is little food available. They have to maintain their body temperature even when hibernating, however. To achieve this, they have to decrease their metabolic rate.

They have evolved to hibernate as an adaptation to living in the wild. However, in captivity, hedgehogs should not hibernate. They are a different species from most European hedgehogs. Since their food and temperature should remain constant, they should never feel any need to hibernate. If they do hibernate, they may end up losing massive amounts of weight, becoming ill, or even die.

Indian long-eared hedgehog
Image Credit: Nishant Vaze, Shutterstock

11. There are Several Different Species

There isn’t merely one type of “hedgehog.” There are several different species throughout the world. When most people imagine hedgehogs, they imagine the African pygmy hedgehog. This sort of hedgehog is most preferable as a pet.

They are smaller than most species, hence “pygmy.” This makes them easier to handle and means that they don’t need such ample space in your home. They are shyer by nature, but this also means that they are less aggressive. They will warm up over time and are easily tamed.


12. They Aren’t Legal Everywhere

Hedgehogs are not illegal everywhere. However, most areas in the United States and Europe do allow them though. In some situations, hedgehogs may be completely illegal, or you may need to have a permit to own one. This is likely to cut back on people purchasing hedgehogs without knowing the amount of work that goes into owning one.

You should research the laws in your area to ensure that you can own one.

hedgehog
Image Credit: ilegalni, Pixabay

13. You Can Feed Them Cat Food

You won’t be finding hedgehog food at your local pet store in all likelihood. They can eat both moist and dry cat food in most cases, assuming that the food is high-quality. Most cat food can meet your hedgehog’s basic needs. Of course, you’ll have to feed them very little cat food since they are much smaller than the average cat.

However, this benefits from saving you quite a bit of money since one pack of food will last practically forever.

You will need some different foods to round out their diet and ensure that they’re meeting all their nutritional needs. We recommend that you also provide them with various healthy snacks, like fruits, veggies, and insects. You likely have a large variety of veggies and fruits lying around your house. Insects can be purchased for most pet stores, as they are necessary to feed lizards.

Hedgehogs love these treats, and they help round out their diet. They provide nutrients they may not be getting from their regular food.

As we previously discussed, this animal is prone to obesity. For this reason, you should keep your hedgehog’s snacks to a minimum. Remember, they are tiny, so they don’t need much.


14. You Should Only Get Them from a Reputable Breeder

Similar to other animals, you should only purchase hedgehogs from a reputable breeder. The first few days and weeks of a hedgehog’s life are essential. Your hedgehog needs to be adequately socialized early on, as it prevents them from being extremely shy. In other words, it makes them “tame.”

Their environment in the first few weeks can also affect their health. Unhealthy hedgehogs usually have unhealthy babies. Everything must be in tip-top shape when the babies are born to have the best future possible. This can be difficult to do, which is why choosing an experienced, qualified breeder is essential.

You have every right to ask about the baby’s environment and see where the mother and baby were kept. If the breeder attempts to brush off your questions or refuses to let you see their environment, it is likely time to look elsewhere.

Purchasing from a good breeder may be a bit more expensive, but it is worth a lot in the long-run.

hedgehog-pixabay
Image Credit: Meatle, Pixabay

15. Hedgehogs Can Be Curious

Though they are often considered shy creatures, hedgehogs can be quite curious as well. Of course, this can be a bit different from hedgehog to hedgehog. They all have different personalities and traits. Some are quite laid-back and shy, while others are incredibly spunky.

Hedgehogs seem to be mostly driven by their nose. When they smell something new, many are very interested in finding it. They will follow their noses just about anywhere, which can be very entertaining to watch.

Their driven behavior can be a little strange for us to watch since we can’t smell what they’re going after. Sometimes, they fall in love with the most pungent smells.


16. Hedgehogs Don’t Produce Many Allergens

Unlike dogs and cats, hedgehogs produce very few allergens. This can make them a suitable choice for those with allergies that cannot own other pets. They don’t even really have “fur,” so you don’t have to worry about the dust and dead skin traveling very far.

They’re also tiny. Because they’re incredibly tiny compared to even a small dog, they don’t produce much compared to your average pet. They simply don’t have as much skin.

a cute hedgehog
Image Credit: Amaya Eguizábal, Pixabay

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Featured Image: Best dog photo, Shutterstock

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!